I finally got around to revising "The Transformations of Terror" according to some audience feedback. Below is the poem entirely in present tense. The original page is here.
There is one transformation they all fear.
Nobody wants to transform into a starship.
Oh, they aren’t afraid of heights –
They all love to fly.
They aren’t afraid of space –
They would orbit happily in station form.
They aren’t afraid of travel –
They could drive quite gladly around the whole planet.
But they aren’t alone.
And they know that.
And they know IT is out there,
High up in the thin aethyr of hyperspace
Where they have to go if they want to get out of the system.
They know IT is there,
Waiting for them.
The transformation itself is quite ordinary:
The shifting of wings and rocket pipes,
Legs tucking up to broaden the base of the body,
Head slipping forward to become the bridge.
Even the delicate internal assembly of the stardrive itself
Comes together as naturally as crystals forming.
But they don’t want to jump in.
It’s worse than the first dive
After learning to become a submarine,
When the water seems to gleam with an evil threat.
This time they know what is waiting for them.
The ones who steel themselves for the journey
Find themselves facing IT at once:
The slick sinuous mass of IT makes them queasy
Right down to their reactor cores.
At first IT just hangs there, folding into and out of itself
Like a tesseract made of meat.
Then IT senses them and surges forward,
Faster than they can imagine,
And they cannot flee although they always try.
They can scan IT undulating as it approaches,
Tentacles uncoiling to reach for them,
Suckers moist and pulsating.
They try not to scream as IT clamps on,
But that’s hard,
Especially when IT covers their sensors
Leaving them deaf and blind
To the whole journey through hyperspace
So that they have to trust the coordinates
Uploaded ever-so-carefully into the pilot-drive.
All they can do is pray
And try not to think of what’s happening
And remind themselves that this will be over eventually.
The suckers slop away from the hull
And the scanners are clear of everything except slime
And the awful trip is finished
So that they can dive into the atmosphere
And let the cleansing fire of reentry burn away all traces
Except for the memories they cannot forget
No matter how many times they try to delete the files.
They go about their business, then,
As submarines and shipping vehicles and jet planes,
Reveling in safer forms of motion.
Some of them return to space
And hang content as stations curled up in a comfy LaGrange couch.
But sooner or later,
They have to take downtime,
Have to let their busy minds rest and recover
From the challenges of life.
Then it hits them – then the nightmares come.
There is no escaping them.
Over and over they suffer the same terrifying transformation
Into a starship and the quivering leap into hyperspace.
Over and over they relive the horrible stroking of their sensors,
Their vents, and their tightly latched apertures as IT probes them.
Over and over they suffer blindness, deafness,
And the creeping certainty of something striving to reach them,
Right into the central braindrive where the soul resides.
Telling who’s been a starship is always easy:
They’re the ones
Who wake up screaming.
As far as the records show, IT has never hurt anyone.
But nobody believes that.
Ships do get lost sometimes,
Gone without a trace,
Swallowed by hyperspace.
Everyone who has ever seen IT
Knows who to blame.